Sunday, January 26, 2014

Winter Gardening

I love rhubarb. One of my favorite memories from growing up is that my grandparents had a giant rhubarb plant in their backyard. I've always wanted to grow my own. Never mind that I live in the desert, and it gets too hot and dry here - so far my rhubarb has made it for two years. Next year, I'm going to try and harvest some stalks. It also looks interesting in my tubes in the spring/summer, with its big leaves spilling over the tube like this:

Rhubarb in tube - Late Spring/Early Summer
 However, in the winter, the rhubarb leaves die down, and I'm left with an empty tube. Which, considering they are smack-dab in the middle of the garden, isn't too good. So this year, I tried something new...
I tried both the "dinosaur" kale (Lacinato Kale), and the curly kale. I like the curly kale the best - it spills over the top of the tube, and looks all full and lush.
plus - I like to eat kale, and I don't have to wait for three years to eat it!
So that I'll remember this for next year: this is 5 plants, planted in a circle near the outside of the tube. That leaves the middle of tube free, and doesn't disturb the rhubarb. Normally, I don't water during the winter, but since there has been no rain, I've been running the irrigation every other day for 3 minutes (in the tubes). The curly kale has had no issues, while the Lacinato kale got eaten by something, and never really filled out.

Now, it will interesting to see what this looks like when the rhubarb comes back. I hope it comes back. It did try to bloom last year (definitely NOT a desert plant) but I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mr. Ripple - My Favorite Plant this Week & Foliage Follow-up

This post feels a little like cheating - Foliage Follow-up and my favorite plant for the week (and late for both!). But who can deny the attraction of "Mr. Ripple":
Mr. Ripple definitely believes he should be celebrated twice!
And I actually call this plant "Mr. Ripple" in my head every time I think about it (him). Mr. Ripple came to the garden about a year ago, when he was much smaller:
Agave "Mr Ripple" on 3/28/2013 - that's the same tube, for scale
He came from Plants Delights where they have the following info on this pretty agave:
Zone: 8a to 10b
Height: 60" tall
Culture: Sun
"This species, or possibly a natural Agave salmiana hybrid, is occasionally seen in Texas and California gardens...always unlabeled. Agave 'Mr. Ripple' makes a 5' tall x 8' wide, rapidly-growing clump with very undulating, broad, blue-green, soft-textured leaves"

Rapidly growing, and hardy through our winters (we got down to ~19 deg F this winter, so far, and you can see just a bit of yellowing near the tips of the leaves), but the real attraction is the leaves:
Undulating away... and those leaf imprints!
And teeth!
Mr. Ripple put on a lot of growth over the summer, and has been growing fairly upright
He's probably going to have to come out of the tube in the next few years, if this pace of growth keeps up. But for now, he's enjoying his time front and center on the stage!

Go visit Pam at Digging to see other great foliage, and see everyone's favorite plants (including flowers!) at Danger Garden. Thanks for providing all these great opportunities to discovery other people's gardens!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Blooming Aloes

For bloom day in January, I cheated a bit. I had the opportunity to go to the Huntington Gardens a few weekends ago. The aloes were blooming in the desert garden, and I have to share these pictures. Warning, picture-heavy post ahead... and it was a strangely overcast but bright day, so the light is odd in some pictures. If I were better at photo-editing, I could fix them, I'm sure.

Starting with some non-Aloes, these Kniphofia gave a good idea of the wonders ahead:
Love that even at the Huntington, they leave hoses around to get in pictures...
 But the real show was in the Desert Garden. All the plants were labeled, but I was so captivated by the colors that I didn't make a note of any of the plant names.
Huge Aloe plants/bushes

Close up

Aloe next to an Agave pushing out a bloom stalk

the colors!

bi-colored blooms

this a panorama - with the light all messed up. But there were so many aloes, it was amazing.
 The Desert Garden is one of the oldest parts of the Huntington - some of these planting are almost 100 years old.

even un-opened, the bloom spikes were gorgeous.

tri-colored bloom!

creepy cactus in the background!
While I would love to translate some of this into my own garden, I'm not sure I have a hundred years, and we get too cold for most Aloes to survive in the ground. The whole display was amazing... If there is any opportunity to visit the Huntington in January/February, I can't recommend it enough!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

My Favorite Plant This Week...

Loree at Danger Garden has been posting about her favorite plant each week - her latest post is here. I've enjoyed the series from the beginning, and this week, I wanted to include my favorite plant this week: Agave ovatifolia "Whale's Tongue Agave":

My plant is about a foot across now
This was one of the first plants I added to the back garden when it was completely overhauled. It has had no issues in the 2+ years since - sailing through our heat, drought and cold winters.

with large teeth!
 This one is fairly blue-ish, although it looks green in different lighting. It's located hear the Optunia, and looks great even when the rest of the garden is ravaged by our cold nights (cold for sunset Zone 11 anyway)
it has broad leaves - broader than I've seen in other pictures of this species
 The barrier around the bottom was put there to deter the neighborhood cats from digging around the plant when I first planted it. It was a lot smaller then.

it's located in full (summer, desert) sun and has never had any issues with it...
Some stats about A. ovatifolia from San Marco's growers:

Origin: Mexico
Height/Width: 3-4 feet
Exposure: Full Sun
Winter Hardiness: 0-10 deg F

You can visit Loree's comments and see everyone else's favorite plants this week!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Wide Shot - January 2014, back hill

Heather at Xeristyle has been posting monthly wide shots of her garden at her blog. Go here to see her picture for January, and other people's links in the comments. For this month, I wanted to focus on the hill side in my back garden. Out of all the areas in the back garden, it needs the most work, given that the plan conceived two years ago really didn't work.

Last August (08/2013), the hill looked like this:
From South looking North
It had just been weeded, and a new path put in at the top of the hill. All of the plant material that was dead had been removed. There are 2 pine trees (Pinus pinea, Italian Stone Pine) on either end, and 3 fruit trees (peach, nectarine, almond) in between the pine trees.

Here is what it looks like today (01/2014):
same view as before - January 2014

From the opposite side
Most of the green, especially near the bottom of the hill, is weeds (oops!). I have started to try a couple of plants (optunia pads, some aloe) but winter is not a good time to plant here, since we get really cold nights sometimes. Also, there's been no rain.

So this will be one of the major areas I want to plant in the spring. I'm thinking of trying most or all of the following:
1) big scrubs, like Fremontodendron, Dalea, Caesalpinia, Buddleja (this is my neighbor's way of dealing with his hillside - big scrubs in bare dirt. He seems to not have too many weeds...)
2) Coreopsis along the top and bottom, and pathways (or another low desert bloomer?)
3) various (cold-hardy) yucca, agave, optunia, aloe, dasylirion, etc
4) grasses (Mexican feather grass, purple fountain grass (not hardy), bamboo muhly?)
5) maybe some vines for ground cover?
6) containers on the top and bottom paths (the bottom (brown) path is decomposed granite, and was pretty weed-free up until this winter)

The hill gets full sun all day long, especially in the summer, so it's not the most hospitable area.

Hopefully, in another few months, this hill side will look way more interesting!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 Wrap Up

I lost track of posting during 2013, but never stopped taking pictures... I was inspired by Les at Tidewater Gardener and his 2013 photo wrap up! Here are my top 12 pictures from 2013 to get caught up on 2013 and ready for 2014. Some are from my garden, while others are from other places, but all of them show what 2013 was like (other than DRY!):

1) Tale of the Redbud Tree:
During early spring (left) and then in late April (right)
This tree was only in the garden for 2 years. While it was always beautiful in the spring, by early summer, it was showing severe stress, and grew leaves only at the tips and were always sun burned. So this winter, it came out, and will be replaced in the spring with a Palo Verde (hopefully Desert Museum!)

2) Joshua Trees after Blooming:
Joshua Tree Seed Pods
Even though we had very little rain, the Joshua trees all bloomed, and made their funny looking seed pods. I actually did post about this: here We'll see what happens in 2014, given we've still had (almost) no rain.

3) The Beauty of the Hills:
Views out by San Francisquito Trails
Earlier in the year, I got a chance to explore some of the off-road trails in the area. The whole area is gorgeous, and I took a ton of pictures (four shown above). Sadly, in June of this year, the massive Powerhouse Fire   swept though the area, burning everything, including several homes. It will be years before the area is reopened.

4) The Irises Bloomed!
For the first time ever...
For the first time in 4 years, I found a spot the Irises liked enough to bloom. Turns out they're blue! Of course, I rewarded them by moving them to a different spot later in the year...

5) The Optunias Had a Good Year
Flowers and Fruit!
The Optunia macrocenta absolutely exploded with blooms, and I took several pads to plant on the hill side. Over 2 years, this plant has done very well for me. The larger Optunia (Ficus-Indius?) bloomed for the first time, and made fruit! I waited too long to pick them however - remember that for next year!

 6) My Favorite Plant Combination:
Shown here in Early November
Speaking of optunia macrocentra - here is a my absolute favorite plant combination this year. A red-purple castor bean (grown from seed no less!) growing over the purple optunia. This is definitely a combo I'll have to repeat! I wonder if the castor bean will reseed on its own? We had another super cold winter (due to the same arctic front I read about on other blogs), so this year's plant is definitely toast!

7) At the Huntington Gardens:
My favorite plant's last show (May)
One of my favorite places to visit is the Huntington gardens. While I was there in May, I saw that one of my favorite plants there (a giant agave) was pushing out a bloom stalk! So sad! But it turns out there was massive construction coming to that area of the gardens, so maybe it was good it put on this one last show...

 8) Finishing the Side Front Yard:
More Optunias
I've had a hard time figuring out what to do with this part of the front garden - there are no sprinklers except for the neighbor's irregular overspray, and it's on the north side of the house. I'm not sure the Optunias I have there will survive this winter, with the neighbors still watering their grass two or three times a day, but I think the combination gravel garden will definitely be staying!

9) And Redoing the Back Hill Side:
A blank slate in late August
Out of all the parts of the back garden (which was installed in 2012), the hill side has fared the worst. Finally this year, I got a new gravel path installed at the top, to help keep down the weeds, and cleared all the half-dead plants off the slope. Now, I just need to find things that will grow in full desert sun, with limited water, in mostly clay soil. Should be easy, right? This will be one of the main planting areas for 2014, as I try new plants.

10) Inspiration from Descanso Gardens:
Recreated in my back garden
Early in the year, I saw this planting bed at Descanso Gardens. I loved the combination of agaves, grasses and gravel. I recreated in two of my beds in the back garden, using Agave "Shark", "Blue Glow" and "Kissho Kan" with blue fescue grass. Kissho Kan has required winter protection this year, and the blue fescue may need replacing as well, but this combo looked great all summer and fall.

11) I grew things from seed!
Morning glory
I know Morning glory is basically a weed in some parts of the country, but I loved this combo of yellow and blue. Especially since I have had very limited success growing things from seed and having them survive, I was very surprised that in 2013, I was able to grow morning glory, castor bean, and several others (including cypress vine, bower vine and Nasturtium).

12) Blooming Chocolate Chip Manfreda:
The plant is about 8 feet below this...
Certainly one of the most interesting things to happen in the garden was that the Manfreda undulata "Chocolate Chip" put up a gigantic blooms stalk with this flower on the top. The hummingbirds had a field day, and now I have a pipe full of pups I need to divide and find homes for. This is another plant that has done very well in the back garden.

Now we're on to 2014. I have no idea what this year will bring, but hopefully some rain will be part of it. Happy new year!